GUWAHATI, March 31 - The traditional bastion of the Congress in the State�s tea belt areas is flagging, admitted Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) vice president Dr Bhagirath Karan.
Talking to this newspaper, Dr Karan said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could win over a sizeable section of the State�s tea community voters with the help of false pledges, sops, undertaking some developmental activities of temporary nature and also by fielding more tea community aspirants as its candidates in the elections. But the Congress is trying hard to regain its lost ground by exposing the lies of the saffron party and to orient the people to better understanding of the socio-economic and political milieu of the State and the country by infusing in them the capacity for the purpose.
It needs mention here that tea community voters constitute around 45 per cent of the total voters of Tezpur Lok Sabha constituency and around 40 per cent of the total voters of each of the Dibrugarh and Kaliabor Lok Sabha constituencies.
Tea garden community voters constitute around 35 per cent of the total voters of each of the Jorhat and Karimganj Lok Sabha constituencies, around 30 per cent of the total voters of Silchar Lok Sabha constituency, around 25 per cent of the total voters of Lakhimpur Lok Sabha constituency and around 10 per cent of the total voters of Nagaon Lok Sabha constituency.
Dr Karan said that the BJP had pledged in 2014 that it would accord Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the tea garden communities, hike their daily wages from Rs 167 to Rs 350 per head, allot land to each landless family of these communities, issue myadi patta to each of the communities� families settled on Government plots of land and provide employment to the jobless youths of these communities.
These assurances misled most of the tea garden community people in 2014, he said. But the BJP took no step to translate these pledges into reality. Then, during the 2016 Assembly elections, the saffron party came with some populist schemes, including the supply of rice at the rate of Re 1 per kg, to the tea garden communities. This rice supply scheme has covered around four lakh people in the State�s tea belt areas. From the current month, rice has been supplied to the tea garden communities free of cost with an eye on the ensuing Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP also started scholarship and financial assistance schemes for students of these communities who aspire for higher studies. It has also provided scooters and bicycles to girl students, set up coaching centres for the youths of these communities who are aspiring to appear in competitive examinations. Besides, it is paying money to self-help groups of these communities and building roads in the tea estates.
The saffron party has also been fielding two to three candidates for the Lok Sabha elections from among the tea community aspirants, against one candidate fielded by the Congress for ages. The party has also assured of fielding more candidates from among the tea community aspirants in the 2021 Assembly elections.
Simultaneously, the influence of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) is declining because of its failure to fulfill the wishes of the tea garden workers.
But the fact remains that the saffron party has not bothered to solve core issues like the ones concerning the ST status, landlessness, wage hike, residential quarters, safe drinking water and modern health care facilities, among others, of the tea garden communities. It has also not bothered to revive the around 150 sick tea gardens in both the Brahmaputra Valley (around 130) and in the Barak Valley (around 20), besides the 15 Assam Tea Corporation tea gardens. The fate of around 1.5 lakh workers is hanging in balance in these tea gardens, said Dr Karan.